Article 7: The Church
If you went to 1333 Kirkwood Ave. in St. Louis, Missouri, you would find the international headquarters of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod. If you went to Vatican City in Italy, you might find the Pope, who is the head of the Roman Catholic Church. But in neither case would you find the Church, properly speaking. Sure, some people may use the word “church” to describe earthly organizations of Christians, but that’s not what the Church truly is.
The Church is not something that can be seen. It’s not a person, or a class of people, or a business office. The Church is an article of faith. “Also they teach that one holy Church is to continue forever. The Church is the congregation of saints, in which the Gospel is rightly taught and the Sacraments are rightly administered,” (Augsburg Confession VII.1).
The Church is the congregation of saints. It’s the sum total of all believers everywhere, who are gathered here and there throughout the world. This congregation, however, is not a group of like-minded individuals who find that they have something in common and decide to get together and make a church. They are gathered. Passive. The Church is called, gathered, enlightened, and sanctified by the Spirit. That’s why the Church is always where the Gospel is rightly taught and the Sacraments are rightly administered. They are the Spirit’s instruments.
Even though the Church cannot be seen in any earthly institution, it can be perceived by the means of grace. The preaching of God’s Word, Baptism, and the Supper are called the marks of the Church—they mark where it can be found. Because the Church is defined thusly, this is sufficient for the true unity of the Church. “And to the true unity of the Church it is enough to agree concerning the doctrine of the Gospel and the administration of the Sacraments. Nor is it necessary that human traditions, that is, rites or ceremonies, instituted by men, should be everywhere alike. As Paul says: One faith, one Baptism, one God and Father of all, etc. Eph. 4:5-6,” (Augsburg Confession VII.2-4).
Human traditions do not define the Church, but good human traditions will always extol and point to those things that mark the Church, namely, the preaching of the Gospel and the Sacraments. Traditions that point elsewhere, or worse, deny the instruments of the Spirit, should be tossed.
We confess that the one holy Church is to continue forever. Not only will the Church never perish in this world, but it will extend into the world that is to come, when our Lord Jesus Christ returns on the Last Day.
You can read the Book of Concord at http://www.bookofconcord.org
“Concord” is a weekly study of the Lutheran Confessions, where we will take up a topic from the Book of Concord and reflect on what we believe, teach, and confess in the Lutheran Church. The purpose of this series is to deepen readers’ knowledge and appreciation for the confessions of the Lutheran Church, and to unite them “with one heart” to confess the teachings of Holy Scripture.
Rev. Jacob Ehrhard serves as pastor of Trinity Lutheran Church in New Haven, MO.